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Amazon has rolled out the new Whisper Mode for Alexa, letting users whisper to the smart assistant and she will whisper back. The feature isn't available yet, but it will be available in the US English starting next month.
Amazon is also presenting a paper on the same at IEEE Workshop on Spoken Language Technology in December. The reason why the company took the time to get the new functionality on Alexa is that whispering is tougher to decipher. While whispering you do not use the vocal cords, which makes it even more difficult.
Whisper Mode is basically something that has been requested by consumers in the past. The new mode will come in handy at a lot of instances. For example, if you wake up early in the morning before everyone else, and want to find out the latest news, you don't want Alexa shouting. This way you can whisper to Alexa and she can whisper back the answers to your queries. This could also make Google and Apple develop a similar feature for their respective AI assistants as well.
Amazon keeps adding skills to its Alexa after regular intervals, but people are still skeptic about using smart speakers as they worry that hackers could breach their privacy. But, this hasn't been the practical reality -- at least not for the Amazon Echo smart speakers. Researchers from China Tencent have come about as close as you can get it right now.
However, they have disclosed a hacking attack on Amazon's Echo speaker that combines both a modified speaker and a string of Alexa web interface vulnerabilities to discreetly eavesdrop on regular models. Sounds scary right? It sounds nefarious, but it's something not all intruders can pull off.
The team of researchers built a rogue Echo device by eliminating the flash memory chip, modifying the firmware to get root access, and tucking it back on the circuit board. After the circuit was tweaked, the team put the speaker on the same Wi-Fi network as untouched Echos. The researchers used Amazon's whole-home communication protocol plus the Alexa interface flaws allowing them to gain full access to victims' speakers. They also succeeded in silently recording and playing any sound they like.